For some time now, some of my on-line friends have advised me to provide a version of CassidySlangScam without the invective aimed at Cassidy and his supporters. In response to that advice, I am working on providing a glossary of the terms in Cassidy’s ludicrous book How The Irish Invented Slang with a short, simple and business-like explanation of why Cassidy’s version is wrong.
The word ruffler was originally used of a swaggering or arrogant beggar, a beggar who was or pretended to be an ex-soldier and who either begged or robbed people at the point of a sword. It is first recorded in English in the year 1561, long before the Irish words claimed as its origin by Cassidy, ráfla and ráflálaí. (The earliest I can find for ráfla is 1670.)
Ruffler is believed to come from ruffle. The sense is of a bird preening its own feathers.
In Irish, the word ráfla means a rumour and a ráflálaí is one who spreads rumours. I have been unable to find any clear statement about the origins of ráfla in Irish, but nearly all nouns ending in -a in Irish are borrowings from Norman French or Middle English. It seems likely to me that this word is also, like ruffler, derived from ruffle and that that word ruffle must have had the same meaning as to create a stir in the English of the Pale long ago. (I also looked at raffle as a possible source but could find no evidence that the meanings of raffle would have been suitable.)
What is quite clear is that the words ráfla and ráflálaí are borrowings from English into Irish, whatever the exact source, and not the other way round.
According to Cassidy, the slang term shindig comes from the Irish expression seinnt-theach, meaning a house of music. Seinnt is a common variant of seinm, which means to play a musical instrument, and teach does mean house but the expression seinnt-teach is complete fabrication. It is not attested in Irish and and there are a lot of familiar phrases for a house where music is played and people gather for entertainment, such as teach céilí, teach airneáil, teach airneáin. Teach ceoil (house of music) would also sound reasonable and any Irish speaker would know what you meant. But seinnt-teach (you wouldn’t aspirate the teach, as Cassidy does, so his version of seinnt-theach is a misspelling anyway) is not a real word and it sounds very odd, as if the house is an instrument and someone is blowing into it or hitting it. If you know Spanish, the phrase casa de tocar would give you some indication of why it is odd and improbable.
On some forums, people have defended Cassidy by claiming that Irish speakers suddenly started saying things in a completely different way when they got to the multi-ethnic ghettoes of the New York. They apparently forgot all their grammar and forgot the expressions they had grown up with and were reduced to the level of incoherent grunting imbeciles and conveniently, their grunting imbecilities just happen to coincide with the mad conjectures of a certain Daniel Cassidy. Nobody with half a brain would accept this nonsense. The fact is, if there is no evidence for the existence of something but Daniel Cassidy’s word for it, then it should be treated as not existing. People who regard this as academics trying to maintain a closed shop by refusing to accept the contributions of amateurs are just being stupid. It’s like someone refusing to play pool and simply smashing the pool table with the end of the cue and whacking the balls around the room, then arguing when they are disqualified that the pool establishment has it in for them and refuses to accept their unique and iconoclastic way of playing!
As for the real explanation, the dictionaries suggest that shindig is linked to an obsolete word shindy which means a ruckus. This may be correct but the word shindig also has a certain aptness, in that drunken people dancing clumsily tend to dig each other’s shins. Whatever the explanation, deriving it from an Irish phrase only works if there is an Irish phrase, and in this case there isn’t, because seinnt-theach was made up by Daniel Cassidy.
This is another entirely irrelevant entry in Cassidy’s book. Yes, we know that Ireland was hit by a terrible famine in the 1840s and that the follies of landlordism and the incompetence and malice of the British authorities were largely responsible for the high level of mortality. We also know that the famine drove large numbers of people from Irish-speaking areas to the States and other countries in search of a better life. But why is this Irish phrase (meaning The Great Famine) an entry in a book on Irish influence on American slang? Did anyone ever talk about the Gortamore in English? If so, Cassidy doesn’t mention it.
In fact, while An Gorta Mór is commonly used in books, I have friends who dislike the term in Irish and won’t use it because they regard it as Béarlachas (an Irish expression which has been influenced by English and sounds foreign). They prefer the term which native Irish speakers tend to use when referring to that dark period of Irish history, an Drochshaol (= the bad life).